Africities 8-Concept Note: “Transition to Sustainable Cities and Territories: The Role of African Local Governments”










1.Africities 8 will have as general theme: “The transition to sustainable cities and territories: the role of African local governments”.

2.This note defines the general framework of Africities 8. It gives a general guidance and organizes the coherence between all the activities of the Summit. This note must make it possible to prepare the sessions based on the work assumptions and to make them converge towards the progression of the questions and prospects of the general theme, that is to say the theme of the transition towards sustainable cities and territories. The note must also prepare the proposals and recommendations of the Summit to the elected officials of the African local governments and to the African, national and pan-African institutions.

3.The Africities Summits are the space for developing proposals and training opportunities for African local elected officials. This space is open to all those who wish, in alliance with local African communities, to build alternative policies. Since 1998, the Africities Summits have enabled participants to understand and act on the issues of globalization and urbanization that weigh on the evolution of Africa and Africans, at the level of local communities, central governments, and African institutions. The attached table lists the themes of the seven previous Africities.

4. Africities 8 will question the future of African cities, territories and local governments. The goal will be to take as a starting point the situation of Africa in globalization and urbanization; to highlight the dimensions of the transition from current mutations; and to emphasize the role and strategy of African Local Governments in the transition.


5.Among the many issues that will mark the future of Africa, two trends are to be highlighted: globalization and urbanization. The future of African cities is part of the evolution of the continent and will contribute to the future of the continent. Urbanization is a heavy trend. We are currently experiencing a new urban revolution, linked to the evolution of globalization. Being the mainstays of globalization, cities are also transformed. The evolution of globalization is upsetting the geopolitical system and calling into question the nature of States. Globalization modifies the relations between the local dimension, the national dimension, the large regions and the world; between the rural and the urban dimensions; and between the particular and the universal dimensions.

6.Urbanization is not just about changing cities; urbanization marks all territories, urban but also rural. It includes the relationship between urban and rural and a certain subordination of the rural world to the urban world; but it also marks the structuring and evolution of the rural world. The future of Africa will be strongly determined by the countryside and agriculture; local communities will play a big role. Taking cities as a starting point should not lead to neglecting the rural world in the evolution of territories and of the future of Africa.

7.Africa had 100 million inhabitants in the 19th century, 275 million in 1960, 640 million in 1990, and 1.2 billion inhabitants in 2015. It should have 2 to 3 billion inhabitants in 2050. The continent accounted for 16% of the global population in 2016; it could represent 39% in 2100. The urban population grows by 3.4% per year. In 2009, the urban population, representing 40% of the total population, had 400 million inhabitants. By 2040, it should reach with 1 billion inhabitants, 60% of the total population.

8.The urban framework of Africa has rapidly evolved. In 1960, Africa had two cities of more than one million inhabitants, Cairo and Johannesburg. In 2015, there are 79 African cities with more than one million inhabitants and 21 cities with more than two million inhabitants. Five cities exceed 8 million inhabitants, one per sub-region: Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg-Gauteng, Kinshasa and Nairobi. Urbanization is not just about big cities; 70% of the urban population lives in secondary cities. Urbanization is mostly coastal, with 20% of urban dwellers living in non-coastal countries.

9.The urban framework is characterized by metropolization. The trend towards precariousness worsens urban exclusion and segregation. It is estimated that 90% of Africans live in substandard housing. In African cities, 60% of urban dwellers live in slums. In the next twenty years, 300 million new urban dwellers will have to be accommodated in Africa. The majority of urban dwellers are excluded from legal access to land and housing. They live in a precarious land situation, in under-equipped neighborhoods, most often referred to as “irregular” neighborhoods. Access to land is another way of talking about access to the city. It will be necessary to build, in the next twenty or thirty years, mainly in the poor countries, as much infrastructure as has been built so far in the world.

10.The urban revolution is part of the evolution of the planet’s population. The issue of migration is the central strategic issue for years to come. It combines economic migration, political migration and refugees, environmental migration. There are more and more refugees and internally displaced persons in their own country, or region, as a result of natural disasters, armed conflict, social unrest and economic and political crises. Two important questions need to be addressed. What is the relationship between migration, development and the distribution of wealth between countries? How to respect and guarantee the fundamental rights of migrants, of migrant workers, and of their families?

11.The international debate on cities has evolved. At Habitat 1, in 1976, discussions focused on the relationship between industrialization and urbanization and between being a wage-earner and housing. Two new issues had emerged: the environment and participation. At Habitat 2, in 1996, the right to housing and access to public services was highlighted. The movements defended the security of tenure and the production of low-income housing. Two new international actors emerged: local governments on the one hand, and business players around multinational companies. The New Agenda for Cities adopted at Habitat 3, in 2016 in Quito, is a non-binding agenda that is part of an overhaul of the UN’s priorities around the Paris Agreement (COP21) and the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015 by the United Nations General Assembly. The debate remains open between two conceptions of urban social transformation: to summarize it, between a competitive city and a city of solidarity. Open contradictions remain strong. The United Nations are not only the bearers of the logic of the central governments. They are also the bearers of international law and of an action by international institutions in the service of the general interest and of the common good. African institutions have not yet fully become involved in the management of the issues of housing and of cities.


 12.The transition hypothesis makes explicit the idea of ​​a profound change, of a structural evolution. We are in a period of total change in all areas of the evolution of cities, societies and territories. A total change that is defined in civilizational terms and one which disrupts all the dimensions of this evolution. One can hypothesize an urban revolution as one of the aspects of a territorial revolution and a much broader societal revolution.

13.The choice of transition also explains the forms of evolution. It introduces a relationship between the total change to come, that is already under way, and the continuity of the evolution of the world and of the planet. What must be linked is the relation between total change and continuity, between continuities and discontinuities. What is valid for companies is also valid for cities. Thus, new social relationships are slowly emerging from the old relations. In the transition, a new rationality is needed and all the old forms, social and urban, adapt themselves to the new dominant rationality, specifically according to the contexts and situations.

14. The urban situation, in the world and in Africa, is the projection on the ground of the great contradictions of the world-system. The Africities Summit will examine the consequences for Africa and for African cities of the contradictions of the world system and of globalization. The Africities Summit will then focus on the situations of local African communities and the role they can play. In order to identify the changes that define the dimensions of transition, we will consider: the ecological transition; economic and social transition; the ecological transition; the geopolitical transition; the political and democratic transition; and the cultural, scientific and ideological transition. For each of these transitions, we shall define what characterizes it, the African context and its specificities, and the role of African local governments.

15. The ecological transition has become a major factor. The ecological contradictions reflect the realization that, for the first time in the history of mankind, the organization of the world has come into conflict with the global ecosystem. This awareness began from major disasters and became obvious. It challenges all certainties about development, growth and productivism. It travels from several approaches: the climate emergency, biodiversity, and extractivism. If we do not confine ourselves to the climate-deniers’ positions that deny the urgency of a radical change in the relationship between the human species and the planet, the debate is open around two options: extending the productivist model from green industries and of the production of environment-friendly technologies or move to totally different models and forms of growth. This debate and the positions that will emerge will have considerable consequences for urban policies and African policies.

16. For the African continent and for the African economies, the uncertainty is a major one. The economy is largely dependent on the production of raw materials and extractive industries. One knows the dangers of the rentier economies but we also know how difficult it is to get out such windfall economies and diversify the economic sectors. Africa is also the continent that has the environmental reserves that are vital for the planet. Will the global economy of the future be able to value them and not return to methods that plunder natural resources?

17. For local African policies and urban policies, ecological transition is of major importance. Beyond urban pollution, the mobility that has characterized urban policies is questioned and the debate on localization and on territories is seeking a form to be adopted. The local economy is becoming central and needs to be redefined. The local dimension of environmental policies is crucial; local public services cover the territories in terms of water, energy, sanitation, and transportation. Public services  build the national, regional and global economy of the future.

18. Economic and social transition is a primary dimension. Let us consider three characteristics of the current situation. First, the dominant rationality is that of financialization, of regulation by the financial markets. Then, the rise of a new productive sector, built on the digital economy and biotechnology, will disrupt the forms of production. Finally, the financial and debt crisis of 2008 raises the question of the possible exhaustion of the neoliberal phase. The debt crisis is reflected in cities and also in housing as we have seen with the “subprime” crisis and in the management of local governments.

19. The productive base of cities is changing. Companies are being reorganized by subsidiarization and subcontracting. National companies are being privatized, especially in public services. Local businesses do constitute the economic fabric even though new forms are growing, such as start-ups and “uberization”. Trade and crafts are marked by continuity between small businesses and the informal sector. From the social point of view, the decisive element is that of the explosion of social inequalities in every society and in the world. The question of social inequalities overdetermines the issues of poverty, precariousness and discrimination.  This question of social inequalities underlies urban, social and ethnic segregation.

20. For Africa, in a few years people went from strong afro-pessimism to sometimes exaggerated optimism. The reality is more contradictory. The decline in commodity prices has put several economies in difficulty and recalled that African economies were often rentier-based and little diversified. African youth, considered one of Africa’s great opportunities, find few jobs and feed migration flows. Modern agriculture is mainly oriented on agricultural exports, and traditional agriculture has not yet integrated the possibilities of modern agriculture based on food sovereignty. African entrepreneurs have been dynamic and several large African companies have proven themselves. But the continuity of the African economic fabric is not assured with on the one hand the control of large sectors by multinational companies, and on the other hand, the weight of the corruption which slows down the non-rentier-based sectors. Public regulation, at the national and African levels, is the determining issue at all levels – economic, monetary and social.

21. African local governments will be the key actors in the economic and social transition. The local economy can play a decisive role in creating and consolidating the continuity of the economic fabric, on the condition of providing training and support to local economic actors from the financial, banking and institutional standpoints.  Local governments will be the key players in social transition through access to local services (water, sanitation, energy, health, education, and culture), on the condition that support is provided by national social policies and their financing. The alliance between African local authorities and major African companies is one of the avenues that should be explored urgently.

22. The geopolitical transition accompanies the emergence of a multipolar world. It’s not just a re-composition of the blocks. In the long run, the second phase of decolonization has some surprises in store. The first phase of decolonization led to the independence of States and the disruption of geopolitical structures. The second phase is based on an open question, that of the liberation of peoples, with its consequences on national issues, the relations between States and nations that challenge the very definition of the international scene. The question of identities and in particular that of multiple identities is posed. The role of the major regions and subregions will evolve. The relations of domination and the relations between the powers will take new forms, modifying the relations between the economic, the cultural, the environmental and the military worlds.

23. Another major element is the issue of conflicts and wars. Between 1 and 2 billion people in the world live in areas that are in a situation of classical war or civil war. Urban wars have taken new forms and completely change the course of urban thinking. A city is not planned in the same way depending on whether the region is at war or at peace. Part of the debate focuses on the issue of insecurity. Insecurity is increasing in cities; social insecurity, employment and housing; ecological insecurity; civic insecurity related to conflicts and relationships to violence. It becomes an essential factor in urban management, which too often results in a security-based ideology, the idea that insecurity can only be fought through repression.

24. Africa will have an increasingly important place in the multipolar world. The continent has several strengths and could experience a similar evolution to that of Asia today. A defining part of the world’s youth is in Africa. African raw materials reserves and environmental reserves are vital. African economic and cultural dynamism is of great vitality. People of African descent are active around the world. One of the conditions for African success will depend on African governance capacities at the  level of the continental level, of the sub-regions, of African countries and also of  local African communities.

25. African local governments will play a decisive role. The emergence of a multipolar world is already present in the world and within the African urban framework. Metropolisation is a major trend that is restructuring the territories. Each continent is pulled by its big cities. For Africa the three cities that could pull the continent are Cairo, Johannesburg, and Lagos; until now they have evolved separately. The second level of the African urban framework is made up of about thirty cities of more than one million inhabitants whose often real economic attraction is often constrained by their political function split between the 54 states that make up the continent. African local governments can also play a major role in preventing and resolving the conflicts that are playing out in their territories.

26. The democratic and political transition is fundamental. The democratic transition is not the only dimension of the political transition, but it is the most pregnant and the most difficult one. Political contradictions undermine the institutions and make the forms of regulation very difficult. Institutions take the form of a formal legal framework that would be imposed without regard to situations or cultures. The claims put forward by citizens represent an urgent demand for a political system which guarantees, in specific situations, the guarantee of individual and collective freedoms and the respect for fundamental rights. These claims from citizens leave open the choice of forms of representation that are respectful of the diversity of societies and of the forms of direct democracy and control that could limit their abuse. In the current situation, these claims from citizens result in a multiform condemnation of corruption which is the result of the fusion of the political and the financial worlds which feeds mistrust in relation to politicians and abolishes their autonomy.

27. At the level of Africa, the question posed is that of institutions born of decolonization. The first phase of decolonization is over: it has led to the independence of the States. This phase was necessary. From the end of the 1970s, this phase was marked by structural adjustment programs and the debt crisis, with the international order taking over the situation. The construction of the economic base of independence has come into conflict with the rationality of financialization at the international level. The goal is to link the question of the renewal of the elites to that of the question of the renewal of the institutions.

28. At the level of African local authorities, the stakes are high. Local democracy through local institutions is only part of the answers. This is a very important part and one which can quickly be implemented. However, local elected officials are not immune to the mistrust that is widespread, in relation to politics, and takes the form of the rejection of corruption. The hope of seeing local elected officials renew African political elites has not yet been realized. New practices and alternative policies would overcome these situations. The example of the participatory budget, adopted by many African municipalities, shows an interest in this approach.

 29. The cultural, scientific and ideological transition is an essential dimension of the total change. It is a radical change that corresponds to the emergence of new forms of civilization. The idea of ​​the ideological transition is often misunderstood. It can be made explicit by the philosophical transition. It is an interpretation of the world, of the evolution of a system of philosophical, social, moral and religious ideas and thoughts that influences, through its representations, individual and collective behaviors.

30.Cities will be upset by scientific and technological developments. Today there is a “technological package” that will mark the cities of the future. Examples include robotics, communications satellites, lasers and optical fibers, microprocessors and memories, biotechnologies, new materials and high-resistance ceramics, renewable energies, and so on. Technological revolutions are not inferred from innovations; there is no scientific and technical revolution without a cultural revolution.

31.From the cultural and ideological point of view, today, two positions are opposed. One is driven by a conception of fundamental rights that has been formalized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). This conception is a foundation of international law. It is evolving and renewing itself with the inclusion of environmental rights and also the optional protocol for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR). This conception is challenged by the rise of new ideologies that explicitly leave room for racism, xenophobia and security-based priorities that challenge the inadequacies of democracy.

32. In Africa, as in the rest of the world, companies are facings several upheavals. These are unfinished revolutions that cover several generations. The revolution of women’s rights is the most impressive; it calls into question time-old relationships. The revolution of the rights of nations is also remarkable. The second phase of decolonization has begun; after the independence of the states, it highlights the rights of the peoples. The ecological revolution is a philosophical revolution that upsets the most established certainties. It reimposes the discussion on the relationship of the human species to Nature. It challenges all conceptions of development, production and consumption. The digital revolution is a decisive part of a new scientific and technological revolution, combined in particular with that of biotechnology. It impacts culture by beginning to change such vital areas as those of language and writing. The revolution of the planet’s population is in the making. Climate change will not only accentuate environmental migration. School enrollment alters migratory flows by combining brain drain and unemployed graduates. Social movements try to articulate the struggles for freedom of movement and settlement rights with those for the right to live and work in one’s own country.

33. Local governments will play a vital role in the cultural, scientific and ideological transition. Their cultural policy will participate in the taking into account inhabitant’s and citizens’ expectations of change and in the acceptance of this change. They will participate in the scientific transition by fitting new scientific and collaborative approaches within the territories. Local governments will contribute to this transition by making local solidarity based on the implementation of fundamental rights a reality.


34. African local governments will play a vital role in the transition to sustainable cities and territories. They are an indispensable step in the implementation of a strategy for transition. At their level, they define and implement a strategy that articulates emergency responses and fits within a social and urban transformation project. African local governments face a double challenge. They have to respond to the emergency and they need to undergo a structural transformation. The response to the emergency does not allow for a transformation and it is unthinkable not to cope with the emergency. The strategy consists in putting the response to the emergency in the perspective of structural transformation. The challenge is therefore to include the action of African local authorities within a strategic approach, in the articulation between emergency and alternative.

35. Responding to emergencies is the daily life of local communities. Since the first Africities, emphasis had been placed on the basic functions that local authorities had to assume, on the mastery of the techniques and the training necessary so that each local authority could meet its obligations. Five areas were identified: human resources management and planning, financial resource management and planning, natural and ecological resource planning and management, planning and programming of transformation actions and of territories, and participation of inhabitants. It is necessary to redefine and deepen the functions that African local authorities must assume. It is also necessary to clarify the link between local and national policies both in terms of trends and characterization, at the level of Africa, and at the level of each country, at the level of the specificity and diversity of the answers provided.

36. An approach to the redefinition of functions would be to overhaul the obligations and opportunities of local governments as local and territorial institutions and as tiers of government. It could be envisaged to define platforms that would integrate policy objectives, strategic approaches, action plans and programs, as well as monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. These platforms would articulate African general approaches and specific approaches according to the situations. One could draw on the approach of digital platforms that extract  from general and diversified procedures, some  answers to the problems encountered from new formalizations based on the systemic analysis of the response practices and also based on the almost immediate access to the information processing tools and to the processing procedures identified. This platform-based approach would help deconstruct traditional responses by defining new questions and exploring the forms of responses in the African contexts. Among the questions that can give rise to platforms, for example: training and human resources; Sustainable development; proposals for 2063 of the local economies and cultures; the climate ; decentralization and information; intermediate cities; cooperation and partnership; evaluation and indicators; etc.

37. The definition of local alternative policies is, together with the response to emergency, the second branch of the strategy. This definition will result from the transition approach, starting from the role of African local authorities in the different dimensions of the transition defined above. The ecological transition will change the way territorial policies are thought of, and their place in local policies. The ecological transition will translate into local environmental policies regarding water, energy, sanitation and transport. The economic and social transition will lead to a redefinition of the local economy and local development. It will translate into public services, access to public markets, and alliance with local economic actors. Its objective will be to combat social inequalities and urban segregation. The geopolitical transition will bring African local authorities to define in their policies their role in the prevention and settlement of conflicts that take place on their territories. The political and democratic transition will give a central place to local democracy through local institutions. It will lead to overtaking local residents’ participation in local policies by freeing local individual and collective initiatives and actions. The cultural, scientific and ideological transition will lead to defining cultural policies, and experimenting locally with innovative scientific approaches. This transition will make it possible to realize, at the local level, solidarity based on the implementation of fundamental rights.

38. The definition of alternative local policies will be based on the implementation of alternative practices. Africities will help identify alternative practices across the continent and on other continents. It will involve experimenting with innovative and alternative practices, disseminating them and sharing them through African and international networks of cities. The definition of local alternative policies can be defined around a few axes: land policies and transport policies based on the questioning of spatial segregation; public service development policies based on access for all to these services and respect for fundamental rights; local development policies based on local production and local businesses, the local market and local employment; local environmental protection policies based on the improvement of local ecosystems and the rights of future generations; social housing production policies based on the right to housing and the city; local taxation policies, particularly land based, based on the link between wealth production and redistribution; citizen participation policies based on the articulation between representative and participative democracy and on residence citizenship; cooperation policies based on international solidarity and inclusion in the international action of cities and territories.

39. African local governments will play a role in the transition to sustainable cities and territories by defining, adopting and implementing local policies tailored to the level of each local and territorial community. They will also play a role as a grouping of African local authorities, at the level of each country, of each sub-region and at the level of the African continent. The national scale is a decisive one. National communities must first be fully accepted as agents of change in each country. For all the dimensions of the transition, though the initiative and autonomy of African local authorities is a factor of success, consistency between national policies and local policies is a decisive condition. Two dimensions of the transition are particularly relevant at the national level; economic and social transition and political and democratic transition. In Africa and in every African country, as is the case in the rest of the world, the relationship between the Nation and the State is being redefined. African local authorities can contribute to this goal, at the level of each of them and at the level of national associations of local and territorial authorities.

40. Several dimensions of transition take some of their meaning in the subregions of the African continent. The ecological transition is especially appreciated on this scale; it is the scale for example of the river basins and of the natural and ecological resources. Similarly, for geopolitical transition, it is the scale of conflict prevention and resolution. Several aspects of economic and social transition are also defined at this level. For example, from the point of view of migration, freedom of movement and installation have been considered and sometimes implemented at this level. African local authorities can be recognized as actors in the implementation of African sub-regions and contribute to their reinforcement.

41. African local authorities have been recognized as actors by the African Union, which adopted, in June 2014, the African Charter of Values ​​and Principles of Decentralization, Local Governance and Local Development. In 2015, the African Union defined a vision of sustainable and inclusive development of Africa with Agenda 2063. In September 2015, the African Union adopted the Universal Agenda 2030 by defining the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals, the SDGs. Since Africities 1, in Abidjan in 1998, advocacy for recognition of the role of African local governments has been carried out relentlessly. In December 2015, in Johannesburg, the Africities 7 Summit was dedicated to the contribution of local governments to Agenda 2063. Africities 8, that will be devoted to the role of African local governments in the transition to sustainable cities and territories, will extend this forward-looking approach and translate it into local policies.

42. The articulation of the levels and scales, between the local dimension, national dimension, the large regions and the world, is a key issue. The goal is the affirmation of fundamental rights, their implementation and their inclusion in the management and production of cities and territories and in alternative local policies. The challenge for African local authorities is to be part of this transition and to contribute to it. The challenge is also to define and implement a new link, at the local level between institutions, populations and territories.

43. African local governments will play a key role in defining and implementing alternatives. They are key players in the different dimensions of transition that link the local, national, regional and global scales. African local governments are at the forefront of ecological transition, economic and social transition, geopolitical transition, political and democratic transition, as well as the scientific, cultural and ideological transition. African local governments need to make the transition to sustainable cities and territories part of their strategy, at the level of each local authority and at the level of all local African communities.